As you might tell from the title, this has to do with the end of “Inception” and so therefore includes SPOILERS. You’re hereby warned.
Just as people keep trying to ruin the ambiguous ending of “The Graduate,” people are out to find definition in the uncertain conclusion of “Inception,” which just finished its third weekend at the top of the box office. Though you might prefer to learn of intent concerning the ending from writer-director Christopher Nolan or even the film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, the best we’ve got for now is costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, who spoke about the final scene in an interview with the site Clothes on Film (via The Playlist). He has nothing to reveal about whether or not the top indeed stops spinning after the cut to black, but he provides some clarification about the clothing the kids are wearing that might support the argument that Dom Cobb has made it back to the real world in the end.
If you’re unaware of the debate, many viewers claim the clothes worn by Cobb’s kids (portrayed by real-life siblings Taylor and Johnathan Geare) in the final scene are the same as what they’re wearing in his dreams. They also appear in a similar position. This is believed to be a hint that Cobb is still dreaming at the end. Other more perceptible viewers argue that the clothes are different. Who’s right? Let’s hear it from the guy who dressed the actors:
COF: How much does costume reflect the inner machinations of the plot, particularly in a film such as Inception? For example, Cobb’s children are wearing the same clothes at the end of the story as they are in his dream ‘memory’ throughout the film. Is there something to be interpreted here?
JK: Costume design reflects greatly on the movement of the plot, most significantly through character development. Character development is at the forefront of costume design. The characters move the story along and with the director and the actor the costume designer helps to set the film’s emotional tone in a visual way. In a more physical sense the costumes’ style and color help to keep the story on track, keeping a check on time and place.
On to the second part of your question, the children’s clothing is different in the final scene… look again…
So this clearly means Cobb is awake in the end, right? Well, surely fans will find ways of continuing the debate in spite of this confirmation. Another level of the debate concerns the ages of the kids, with some people mistakenly pointing out that multiple child actors are credited as portraying Cobb’s kids (one is another Geare sibling, all of them pictured to the right). But it’s been clarified time and again that the younger kids only appear in a single dream scene and not the one heavily repeated. Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe that Cobb has been away from his kids for so long that having them be the same age in the end as they are in his dreams is any hint that he’s still dreaming. I keep thinking the voice of daughter Philippa on the phone at one point sounds too old to be from a 5-year-old, but I’m willing to shrug it off.
As for whether or not the top stops spinning, here is a College Humor spoof making the rounds that plays upon the frustration of the audience at the end of “Inception”:
On a slightly related matter, especially as referenced in its “forget ‘Inception'” header, The Guardian’s David Cox takes a stab at the ending of “Shutter Island,” which might not be exactly as it seems to be. I won’t reprint what he has to say since I only warned you of “Inception” spoilers, but it concerns a certain line DiCaprio says that’s not adapted from Dennis Lehane’s book. And the theory seems to make sense. I might just have to revisit that Scorsese film and see if it holds up.
If you want to discuss other parts of “Inception,” head over to the Spout About post for the film here.